Tuesday, 3 October 2017

FantasyCon, Peterborough, 29th September to 1st October 2017

Friday 29th September
Rather than the usual long journey, FantasyCon this year meant a 30 or so mile drive to Peterborough for me and Sue Moorcroft.  The Bull hotel was lovely, an old coach house with lots of dark wood, various nooks and crannies and several creaky floorboards, though the view from the car park had a real 1970s Crossroads Motel feel to it.

We were booked in for 2.30.  Steve Harris wandered by, the first time I’d had a chance to properly speak to him since his 50th birthday party at the book barn (we didn’t get to chat at Edge-Lit 6), Simon Bestwick & Cate Gardner turned up, along with Terry Grimwood and his partner and it was good to see them all, especially so quickly.  Ian Whates came by to say a quick hello before moving on to the dealer room.  We dumped our bags (where I discovered my room was so big it had a three-piece suite in it) and then to the bar, the focal point for any Con I’ve ever been to.
In the bar - me, Lisa Childs, Sue Moorcroft, Peter Mark May
We quickly found friends Phil Sloman, Kit Power, Peter Mark May, Ross Warren, Lisa Childs, James Everington and Stephen Bacon and the ribbing of Phil began immediately - he’s up for Best Newcomer and we told him he’s technically not, since he shared in last years BFS nomination for the King For A Year project.  While running through the programme for the panels, Kit admitted he’d never met Ian Whates, who was moderating his so I took him over to the dealer room (in the next but one building along the street) to introduce them.  Ian, one of the friendleist blokes I know, was pleased to meet Kit but had already stepped down as moderator, which didn’t help Kit.  On the plus side, Maura McHugh was at the NewCon Press table and it was good to see her again and say hello.

After a quick chat with Neil & Donna Bond, it was back to the bar and see even more old friends who’d turned up including Georgina Bruce and Tracy Fahey, who intended to hit the dance floor with us later on, Priya Sharma & Mark and Andrew Hook & Sophie Essex.  Alison Littlewood & Fergus were also there and we had a chance for a little catch-up - she’s calling me “Swotty McSwotface” because I got my weekend wordcount done before I headed out this morning.

with CC Adams
Sue & I went to the other building for the SF Readings, led by Ian.  He was on top form as ever, a great story well told, but a fellow panellist introduced himself as an unpublished writer which didn’t exactly put me on his side.  Andrew Hook finished the session off with an assured performance.

We went along to the Black Shuck Books launch, for Great British Horror 2 and Made For The Dark, John Llewellyn Probert’s new collection.  His reading was as wonderful and theatrical as ever and got a terrific response, including plenty of laughs - I loved it.  Gareth Spark, my fellow BFS juror, introduced himself and as we headed back to the bar I saw Laura & Mr Mauro (her hubby) for a brief chat.  Tim Lebbon came by, we shook and said hello and I saw Tim Love again (the first time since WFC in 2013) - after saying hello, we met up again by chance in the toilet and carried on chatting.

In the bar, Sue & I, along with Peter, Kit and Dion Winton-Polak, found a quiet corner and, joined by CC Adams, had a great and constructive chat about writing that was thoroughly enjoyable (and I think we all learned a thing or two as well!).  Rio Youers and John Worley passed by - two more I haven't seen since WFC - and it was nice to chat with them (plus John bought a copy of Strange Tales to be signed).

By then it was dinnertime.  In the past, we’ve started with a party of four or five but as I’ve left the venue, the act of saying to friends “have you arranged for dinner yet?” often resulted in us turning up unannounced at a local restaurant hoping to seat 20.  This time, cautioned by Peter and Sue, I didn’t ask too many times and so it was us three, Danny Rhodes, Steve and Ross who set out.  We went to the Pizza Parlour just off the square, the food was lovely, conversation flowed and we got enough pizza and calzone into Steve to sober him up a bit.
With Jay Eales and John Llewellyn Probert (and his fabulous monocle!) (pic by Selina Lock)
The disco was underway when we got back but nobody was dancing and we set up camp on a table outside the room.  Jay Eales & Selina Lock, James Worrad and Phil Irving joined us as did John Llewellyn Probert & Thana Niveau so I got to tell him how brilliant his reading was.  He seemed genuinely surprised and it was nice to chat and get to see his monocle in person (not a euphemism).  James Worrad started the dancing and I joined him, along with Lisa and we had a cracking time, with Sue and Peter joining in as well as Georgina and Tracy (as promised).  John & Thana were throwing some serious shapes and after a pep talk from Gary (well, he said “Great Dad dancing…”), he & I took on Footloose (and Emily McMahon joined in too, as did Priya), while Coleen Anderson and Tom Johnstone drifted over as well.  As Tracy & I danced, in between moves we discovered we were both writing domestic noir thrillers and resolved to find five minutes later to chat about it (we found more than five minutes as it turned out but the chat went off in all directions other than writing!).  James and Phil Sloman joined in as the evening wore on and it was great fun.
Disco Dancers - me, Peter, Lisa, Tracy Fahey, Colleen Anderson, Tom Johnstone

left - James, Phil & I on the floor / right - taking a breather with Ross Warren, Tracy and Lisa
 After, James & I went into the smaller bar (which I hadn’t noticed until that point) where Ian and his group had taken over a couple of tables.  We chatted with them, Helen (Ian’s wonderful partner) gave me a lovely hug and he introduced me to Storm Constantine.  When Kit wandered in, he, James & I sat in the corner and talked, for ages, about Stephen King, the power of IT, childhood and what we loved to write.  It was the absolute perfect way to end the first night of the Con and I went to bed happy.
me, James and Kit Power, talking about King
Saturday 30th September
I met Sue for breakfast (and was two minutes late, which she tweeted about) and had the cooked option, which was lovely (in deference to my diet, I said no to the hash brown…).  We sat with James and Steve H, had a nice chat with them and also saw Steve Bacon (who looked a bit grey) and John Travis (who looked very chipper on very little sleep).  Sue went to watch the F1 qualifying in her room, I went to the other building for my 10am panel and met up with Helen Armfield, my moderator and introduced myself to Nina Allan.  “Horror: Mastery And Apprenticeship” comprised Ramsey Campbell, Nina, Phil, James and me and played to a packed room with people loitering in the doorway too.  The audience was responsive, I think I acquitted myself well (I know my fellow panellists did) and it’s always a pleasure being on a panel with Ramsey.  The 50 minutes sped by and, all too soon, it was over but I had a great time doing it.
The panel - Ramsey Campbell, Phil, me, Helen Armfield, Nina Allan and James (pic by Peter Mark May)
My fellow NSFWG’ers Tim C. Taylor and Paul Melhuish had arrived for the day, met me in the foyer and together we headed back for the NewCon Press launch, which went well.  We sat with Cardinal Cox and his friends from the Peterborough SF Group, I bought the novella series and got them signed, Sue arrived and chatted with Tim and Paul and then James Barclay came over to say hello.
Dave Jeffery, Sue, Phil (his left arm isn't really that long!), Peter, me, Richard Farren Barber
I went to get a drink in the bar and the man I stood next to, Glynn, complimented me on the panel.  I discovered it was his first ever FCon, we had a chat then Dave Jeffery (who I haven’t seen in ages) turned up with Peter so I introduced them to Glynn.  Had a chat with Steve (who couldn’t remember a thing from last night) before we headed out for lunch, picking up Phil and Richard Farren Barber on the way.  Phil suggested we try a place called Bill’s and on the way we saw Gary & Emily McMahon in a little pub whilst Lynda Rucker (it was good to see her again) and Sean Hogan were sitting outside the pub next door to that.  Bill’s was a decent enough place, the food was nice but the conversation around the table topped it.

Back to the Con, we’d unfortunately missed Donna Bond’s panel so chatted in the bar until it was time for Steve’s, “Short Fiction: Markets, Outlets & Awards”  Moderated by Allen Ashley, it also featured Tim Major, Pat Cadigan, Adam Millard, and Lynda and was great fun.  To the hotel for Hersham Horror Books launch, I blundered into an audio interview with Peter and then the interviewer turned to me so I’ll soon feature in my very first podcast!  Well, I was chuffed to be involved.
Flicking the V's at Peter during the HHB launch as Penny regales us
(from left) - 2 unknown ladies, Lisa, Sue (obscured), Ross, James, Paul Melhuish, Mr Jones (with his back to camera and obscuring) Penny Jones, Stephen Bacon
After Peter got down to the business of selling books, Penny Jones regaled our little group - me, Sue, Tim, Paul, Ross, James, Lisa, Mr Jones and Steve - with her tales of being hassled by a small Irishman at FCon last year, who kept telling her FCon was rubbish.  In the telling, the short fellow became a leprechaun and once I pointed out that any man standing next to Penny would look small, things became very funny indeed (at one point, Steve Shaw came over to say hello (he must be six-foot-six if he’s an inch) and I asked Penny if this was her leprechaun - her look told me he wasn’t.).

Sue & Paul went to a panel, I dropped my purchases in my room and then, with Ross, went to the “Book to Screen to Audio” panel.  Mark Morris moderated it and he came over to shake my hand and say hello beforehand, which was nice.  The panel consisted of Tim Lebbon, Stephen Gallagher, Dave Jeffery and Natasha Bardon and it was fascinating, Stephen Gallagher’s adventures in radio and TV especially (I could have listened to him talk for hours).
At Carluccio's with James, Tim Major, Dave, Dean Drinkel, Sue and Paul 
Ross & I headed for the bar, met up with the gang and it was soon time to head off for dinner.  We decided to miss out on the launches and so James, Tim Major, Dave, Dean Drinkel, Sue, Paul and myself went to Carluccio's, which was very nice - more great food and conversation.
In the bar with Fergus, Peter, Richard and Alison Littlewood 
In the hotel, none of us fancied the karaoke so our group - James, Richard, Peter, Dave, Lisa and Sue - found a table in the main bar and settled down for the evening.  We were quickly joined by Alison & Fergus and it was lovely to spend so long chatting with her.  Simon Bestwick turned up, followed by Priya & Mark and Steve Harris, Charlotte Bond popped by and it was fantastic, the conversations covering everything from our plans and our writing to what makes the perfect Con.  Priya asked if we told people we were attending FantasyCon and most of us said no (Steve once told someone who, it turned out, assumed he was “going to a sex show”).  We then moved on to the idea that if FCon involved dressing up, who would we go as?  Priya plumped for Batman, I said I reckoned I could go as Catwoman.  Except I said it as “I think I could pull off Michelle Pfeiffer (the ‘as Catwoman' bit remained unspoken)” which made Priya laugh and she told me she’d be annoyed if I didn’t include that in the blog.  Never let it be said I don’t listen to Priya…
Priya Sharma, Steve H, me, Simon Bestwick (front) and Peter
After chatting with Lisa about Rowan Coleman's The Summer Of Impossible Things (which we both loved), I called it a night.  Another great day.

Sunday 1st October
Met Sue and Ross in the foyer for breakfast and we joined Dion at his table.  In between getting another cooked breakfast, we had a wide-ranging chat (focused a lot on Laurel & Hardy and Morecombe & Wise) that I thoroughly enjoyed.  We were later joined by Phil who, on the day of the awards, graced us with his good fortune. I said a pre-emptive goodbye to Dion in case we didn’t see each other again today (one of my least favourite bits of the Sunday, the saying cheerio), then Sue went to read while Ross & I went to Donna’s panel, called “Small Press Publishing”.  We sat with Steve and the panel was great fun, Donna ran it well and Ian, Peter and Francesca Barbini were excellent, I’d have listened to those three talk for an hour or more.  Even better, Peter said about people pitching stuff that just didn’t work and pointed to me saying “like Scooby Doo anthologies.”  I gave him the thumbs up, it got a laugh and Ian said “speak to me at the next Writers!”  John Travis will be pleased.
Phil holds court at breakfast, bestowing his wonder on Sue & I (pic by Dion Winton-Polak)
Ross, Peter & I went back to the hotel, met up with Sue and then Steve H and Lisa regaled us with tales of their exciting adventures in the middle of Peterborough at 4am (Sue reckoned she could get a plot point out of some of it!).  The New Fears launch began and as I queued to get my copy, I finally got to catch up with Paul Feeney.  Then it was back to the room to get packed, down to reception to check out and into the bar for a quick drink and a round of goodbyes before we went to lunch.  Didn’t quite work like that, I bumped into Neil & Donna and had a long lovely chat with them, while Sue caught up with the Steve’s.  Finally it was time to go, I said as many goodbyes as I could, wished Phil all the best on his nomination and ended the day with a bacon butty at Costa - my healthy eating regime definitely starts again tomorrow!

All in all, FantasyCon was a great time spent with fantastic company in brilliant surroundings and, as ever, I left with a renewed surge of creative energy, which is always good.

Friends, fellow writers and FCon, you really can’t top that in a weekend!  Roll on next year!


  1. that outside one, makes it look like Phil has a Mr Tickle arm. Pete

  2. Great con, and thanks for the pep talk - I've very much acted on it and got some emails out there!

    1. Great stuff, so pleased you're all gee'd up and raring to go! :)

  3. Yes, that comment re Catwoman is still making me laugh...